For the past few weeks, James Hardy has been running routes after practice on his own against air with quarterback Matt Baker throwing him passes. For the 15-minute session he was coming in and out of his breaks with focused precision, eager to inch closer to getting back on the practice field with his teammates.
"I'm going full speed," said Hardy. "I'm making sure I'm getting my stride length that I had before the injury. It's coming along, there will be times where I get fatigued every now and then, but I'm just trying to get consistency."
To improve that consistency Hardy had a few defensive backs work against him after practice as to get the feel of an opponent leaning on him and jockeying for position.
"I've got a couple of cornerbacks out here helping me to get back," he said. "I had to get defenders to make sure I've got the weight on me to make sure I'm able to cut out especially on the side where my knee was hurt at."
Hardy will be seven months removed from surgery on Saturday and ACL repairs usually take anywhere from seven to nine months to fully heal. But since the time he was just a few weeks out of surgery Hardy has maintained that he's ahead of schedule, and looks to be closer to the front end of that recovery period than the back.
"I'm out here and the head trainer will make sure I'm not doing too much," said Hardy. "He just wants me to gradually get back into it. I'm doing things before practice and after practice since I'm not able to participate in (team) practice right now. It's coming along, each day is getting better and hopefully I'll be back on the field soon."
The second-year wideout has been an eternal optimist throughout his rehabilitation even though there have been some ups and downs as is usually the case with any recovery from a major surgery.
"I know I'm on the right track," Hardy said. "I just felt like this is my season for me to come out and have a great year and help this team get to a playoff game. I'm just trying to get back out here as soon as possible."
Earlier in the offseason Hardy had targeted the final preseason game as his goal to return to game action, but the preseason finale is just three weeks away on Sept. 3.
"I really don't have a plan," he said. "I just listen to the trainers and what they tell me to do. I just come out here and try to get this knee better. When the time is right I'll be out there. Hopefully it will be before the last preseason game, but if not I'll be ready for the season. For the most part, it's all mental now and I feel I'll be able to conquer that."